[Journal] Back To Metal or: Looking Back On Being a Teenage Metalhead

Our tastes change depending on who we are at any given time. When we’re kids, we often lean towards pop and friendly or gimmicky dance music, as this is what appeals to us. Or in our younger days, we listen to whatever our parents are into. As we grow up, we become more aware of cultural trends happening around us, and try to keep up with them, for the sake of being one with the crowd, to bond with our peers through shared cultural knowledge. When we hit our teens, some of us want to distance ourselves further from the mainstream, and look for periphery or outsider art that doesn’t so much appeal to those still following the mainstream. For recent generations, perhaps that means diving deeper into movements such as rap or metal, or at least that is what it meant for me, as well as searching for cinema not so accepted by my teachers or parents, horror and art-house for example.

Your experiences might be different, as I’m looking at this from a reasonably personal perspective. But metal for me formed a defining part of my teen years, from 14 upwards, I found myself listening to increasingly heavier music, out of enjoyment and also to know about something and be a part of a cultural movement outside what was predominantly taking place within popular groups in my home town. Sport and pop music never really had enduring appeal. I was preoccupied by the mainstream in my tween years, and although I found the Beastie Boys and felt pretty proud discovering such cool artists before the rest of my peers, I would soon turn my back on them, based on one nasty interview they have in New Zealand in 2005. That was before a concert I would want so much to go to but never had a chance, their headlining performance at the Big Day Out. When they acted like bored assholes, in an interview with Clarke Gayford on ex-NZ music channel C4 – my genre loyalties would be prompted to change.

They may have been having a bad day, and I would eventually forgive them (rediscovering them in 2007 upon the release of The Mix Up), but in the interim, metal would fill the gap of my teenage obsessions, and a love of dance and rap would soon be replaced by obsessive support for the heavy – Megadeth, Pantera, Death, Carcass, Mayhem, Slayer, Immortal, Cryptopsy, Metallica, Sepultura, Metallica and Black Sabbath amongst others. The chug, the growl, the double kick, aggressive lyrical delivery and the overly long song structure would become my new musical guide.

Incarnate playing Oamaru's Penguin Club, 2007

Incarnate playing Oamaru’s Penguin Club, 2007

Local New Zealand metal bands would also form a huge part of my metal education and influence. Playing alongside stellar bands such as Christpuncher, El Schlong, 8 Foot Sativa, Tainted, Overlord, Nuns With Guns, Injection Of Death – some from Dunedin, some from around NZ, would only cement my desire to become a better metal musician and be more a part of the community. I was drumming with my high school friends in a band Incarnate (separate schools, but similar friends and ages) and I was prompted to double kick faster and faster, and learn more complex beats and fills, through competition with the peers around me. Gigging together, with friendly competition and rivalry, these high school and university gig days were some of the best times of my life.

After tour photo - Osmium, Sinate, Incarnate, Flesh Gates & Menaesa

After tour photo – Osmium, Sinate, Incarnate, Flesh Gates & Menaesa

Time moved on, I changed cities, and perhaps moved away from metal. Rap re-entered my life, and in a turn of events I still find hilarious even as I delicately pursue it, I’m now an aspiring solo and group rapper writer and producer. Metal is still in my life, as I sporadically meet my friends for gigs and festivals, but mainstream, indie and rock is back to being a more dominant part of my life. I’m no longer trying to prove myself to a community, or gain respect in one genre or subculture. I’m following whatever I like at whatever given time, although still arguably somewhat being under the thumb of trends and phases.

The last month I’ve moved back to a metal phase, interspersed with other genres, but returned to much loved groups such as Baroness, Black Sabbath, and Immortal (whose live DVD is a brilliant lesson in live metal theatrics) as well as diving into bands I’ve previously ignored (as I write this I’m listening and loving Meshuggah’s  “I”) – particularly Gojira, who I find are a brilliant mix of progressive and melodic elements with traditional metal brutality. The whale pick scrapes they’ve pioneered add an addictive element to their death and sometimes even nu-metal influenced chugs. Their lyrical content is on point as well, drawing from philosophical as well as literary influences and also environmental concerns. I love a band that has a heart and cares about topical themes, and Gojira further prove a metal band can be intelligent and as heavy as the heaviest substance on earth, in line with philosophically minded metal bands like Death or Cynic. I will see Gojira live in June at Download Festival, with some friends adventuring over to the UK from New Zealand. I look forward to this greatly.

Drumming at Refuel 2009

Drumming at Refuel 2009

Tastes can change, and I’m lucky to be friends with many different people with tastes ranging from the hardcore dance fanatics, to the indie rock purists. I focus on music because this is what I know, but equally, many of my friends are just as much die-hard about sport or gaming. Our interests and obsessions take many twists and turns, but it’s comforting to know something solid that I loved in a past life, such as metal, as an interest and a community – just will not die.

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Review: Kanye West – The Life Of Pablo

There’s a lot of noise right now surrounding Kanye West, which seems to be the case whenever the man drops a new album. West is a master of the “any publicity is good publicity” promotion technique as we all know, even if it isn’t always intentional. Hatred of this rapper has magnified over the years, perhaps originating particularly with the Taylor Swift-Grammy’s incident of 2008. That’s been covered elsewhere so I’ll refrain from discussing in depth here. But since then, Kanye fans have had to increasingly find ways to defend their idol, with most months bringing another scandal or ludicrous (but quotable) remark. The press, and social media opinion are divided – there’s enough hatred in the comments thread of any Kanye related Facebook post to suggest that many people think West is not as groundbreaking, trendsetting or influential as he thinks he is. But his albums continue to sell well and garner near unanimous positive reviews – which can’t be said for many artists seven (or eight if you include Watch The Throne), into their solo careers.

Even if piracy has caused enormous effect to the actual physical sales of The Life Of Pablo – or rather, Tidal subscriptions it was intended to generate, being exclusively released in this platform – just the breaking of piracy records speaks of the interest in West’s music. So is it really deserving of all the positive reviews, or has Kanye’s creative ambitions begun to outweigh his actual musical output? Having now listened to it for over a week, I’m able to somewhat have an informed opinion. I attended the theater streaming of the TLOP album release at Madison Square Garden, and at that first listening I was pleased with what I heard. The solid but perhaps short album of the MSG premiere, that seemed to echo Yeezus’ sequencing, was satisfying but did not appear classic in the way Dark Fantasy nearly immediately did. It was hard to say at this stage whether it was really one of the greatest albums of all time, as West had tweeted. Now that the album has been released for real, it’s probably clear the claim is indeed a stretch to far. The actual release is a longer, denser and more unfocused product. The additions since MSG (Facts, 30 Hours, the return of No Party’s In L.A.) were welcome, as these are good songs, but they’re messily placed at the end of the album breaking from West’s usual skillful sequencing ability. They could be bonus tracks – perhaps the album truly ends with the haunting Wolves. But this is left unclear.

So while the sequencing could me Kanye’s most sprawling and mixtape-esque yet, this is not in-of-itself a sign that West has jumped the shark. Looking at the songs themselves, there is still a great deal of inspired moments, up there with Kanye’s previous best. Ultralight Beam continues his run of brilliant opening tracks, and is as startling a beginning as On Sight’s harsh electronics three years ago. Beam could be Kanye’s most obvious gospel moment yet, a tribute to his faith, but still heavy and experimental in production. The space between the choir vocals makes each lyric hit harder, and there is a haunting quality added by the backwards synths. Kanye introduces the track, but then lets Chance The Rapper spit the longest verse. It could be the best verse on the album, which perhaps speaks of Kanye’s somewhat diminishing lyrical ability – even though his productions still shine.

Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 reunites West with previous collaborator Kid Cudi over a brilliant soul beat that could have featured on The Collage Dropout. Kanye’s opening lyrics are unfortunate (rhyming asshole with asshole), yet speak of a continued theme from Yeezus – that of a man torn between the sex-party bachelor life of old and the responsibilities of being a parent. Other controversial lyrics through-out the album, such as the much discussed – “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex, why? I made that bitch famous” – on Famous,  adhere to this theme (albeit in that case, loosely). It is easy on the basis of these lyrics to state that Kanye’s wit has declined somewhat, but an argument could be made that he is still as comic and witty as ever – his comedic skills are now just being overlooked (justifiably due to his ego). One of my favorite moments is in the aptly titled Highlights, which incidentally is one of the catchiest on the album and features the best use of ‘gopro’ in a rhyme I could possible imagine. Even the interlude Freestyle 4 works. It’s another musing on sex in a club, but manages humour and darkness in equal terms. These moments seem casual – although the album has

Other musical highlights include Feedback, a great beat perhaps not backed up by as strong lyrics and Waves, where a Chris Brown hook is used in a surprisingly not so nauseating way. When the album goes dark, in remains effective, as on the introspective Real Friends, one of the albums most sincere lyrical moments, analyzing the difficulty of staying a true friend even when we try. FML, featuring The Weeknd returns to the theme of draw of lust and it’s negative effects, which shares more sonic and lyrical similarities with Yeezus moments like Hold My Liquor. Perhaps not as successfully though.

The album is in parts a sequel to the dark and sparse introspection of Yeezus and in parts a return to the more upbeat and sprawling early albums. Kanye acknowledges his own transformation between these eras on the I Love Kanye acapella (which once had beat – the leaked OG version of the album revealed) – another apparently controversial moment that’s being discussed more than the actual music. TLOP is not as focused as Yeezus, and the songwriting and lyrics not to the standard of what I consider to be his best album and artistic peak, My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy. But there are enough great moments on the album to prove that Kanye hasn’t yet lost his midus touch, even if this is an album to pick and chose from, rather than play from start to finish. So if the detractors want another reason why the fans stick to their hero in spite of any shortcomings – TLOP proves, the music remains enough.

Thoughts on David Bowie (Rest In Peace, 1947 – 2016)

David Bowie means a lot of things to a lot of people. This is obvious with the outpouring of memorials all over social media. This morning when I woke up, upon picking up my phone the first thing I saw was someone changing their Facebook profile to Bowie’s iconic image of Ziggy Stardust. I scrolled down a little further, to see the news of his passing from Pitchfork. Unable or unwilling to react to the news immediately, I slept for another hour, dreaming of Bowie, to be awoken by my BBC Radio 6 alarm setting with tributes from on air. At least in London, mainstream media today has been almost solely and rightfully focused on Bowie’s life and influence, and so too have my friends, as I spent much of the day reading their dedications.

The sheer amount of regular people and famous fans alike that expressing sadness at his passing speaks of the man’s importance to popular culture. There is barely a strand of modern music that Bowie did not play some part in innovating in his 70s peak. His work never diminished, even if his audience became at times more niche. Being the androgynous role model that he was, his music spoke to people regardless of gender, generation and race. As I write this I am down at an impromptu memorial to Bowie which has broken out in his birth suburb of Brixton in London. Stretching from a Bowie mural and reaching down to Brixton Oval, thousands of people have congregated, laying flowers, painting faces (and statues) with the Stardust bolt and with singalongs rampantly breaking out aided with the P.A. equipment of local residents. It’s a Bowie block party and a mini-festival, with all kinds of misfits and music fans gathered together.

bowie brixton

There’s probably a lot of reasons why Bowie means so much to so many. Most obviously is the music. Generations have grown up with songs like Space Oddity, Life On Mars, Ziggy Stardust, Heroes, Ashes to Ashes and Lets Dance sound-tracking our lives. His ability to innovate and defy expectations has made him a critical favourite, where his pop sensibilities have equally kept him commercially relevant. Most inspiring to me though, is Bowie’s approach to his own career. His frequent and fearless approach to changing up his style and identity provides a guide to how the rest of us mere mortals can too approach change in our lives. Musicians often get stuck repeating the same formulas, so too do the rest of us in regards to careers or habits. Bowie’s legacy is one of disregard to conformity – if one idea has exhausted it’s potential, move on to a new career in a new town. Just as Bowie dropped glam rock for funk at the height of his popularity, or pop for a return to his rock roots in the late 80s, we too can apply this mindset to more everyday situations. If a job or relationship isn’t working out right, moving on and reinventing is always an option. Even if Bowie makes changing your style cooler and more effortless than a great many of us ever could.

For some reason at points throughout the last decade, I’d found myself imagining what a world without Bowie would be like. Before the release of his 2013 album The Next Day, it seemed like that could come anytime, given his almost complete withdrawal from public appearances and projects. I wanted to believe, that if any of our classic rock idols, Bowie would be the invincible one (he certainly seemed the most otherworldly). With the release of Blackstar last week, it seemed like that might be true. Bowie had seemed healthy albeit a bit wizened in the last few music videos, and he seemed to have lost no energy, finding time to write and stage an off-Broadway sequel to The Man Who Fell To Earth sound-tracked by his music. I had spent this weekend internalizing the new album, which I found to be slighter but more completely realized than The Next Day. Blackstar’s jazzy and sprawling first half put the album up there with the most experimental of Bowie’s musical efforts, although the 2nd half featured a couple of classic ballads, finishing with the touching, I Can’t Give Everything Away. Sounding like Strangers When We Meet, with Low-era production and a haunting harmonica riff, it could be one of Bowie’s best songs of the last twenty years. Before this morning, I had neglected to register the many references to death within that song, and on the album. Such as this lyric from the title track Blackstar, where he appears to be acknowledging his end, and passing the torch somewhat;

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)

I’m sure there will be many more artists that come close to Bowie’s level of success and many that imitate his chameleon approach to a music career, but I doubt that a torch can really be passed. Bowie’s passing for me signifies an end to a particular era of culture. Although some stars of 1960s and 70s music remain active, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and The Rolling Stones to name some, Bowie’s passing seems significant in reminding how finite this era of music really is. Culturally, this is a loss up there in impact with the loss of John Lennon, Michael Jackon, Freddie Mercury and Elvis. Bowie’s loss has reminded me that these legends won’t be around forever, and neither will we. Rock music, as permanent a movement as it may seem, is a passing thing, as mortal as we are. But rather than seeing this finality as grim, we can look positively to all that Bowie has laid out for us. We may not be able to carry his torch, but we can at least take inspiration from this most ambitious, creative, trendsetting and alive of artists.

I would like to end with this sentiment from Twitter user Dean Podesta, who I think said it quite well;

Live Review: Peaches (Electric Ballroom, London, 2015)

Last Sunday night in Camden Town, London, Merrill Nisker brought the Teaches of Peaches and schooled us in how to perfect a solo club show.

On this later tour, Nisker has returned to a minimal approach to Peaches as a live act, similar her Berlin club beginnings, or early festival shows promoting The Teaches Of Peaches and follow up Fatherfucker. Eschewing the band show she had developed to much acclaim during tours for Impeach My Bush and I Feel Cream, the focus of the show was the energy and performance of Peaches herself, backed by a couple of dancers and some very entertaining visual surprises throughout. I had doubted that as a solo show, this would be as excited as the Peaches band set-up I’d seen years earlier. But Nisker had the audacity to pull this off, proving why she is the queen of electroclash – and why she is a true classic live performer.

peaches electric ballroom

No time was wasted as the lights quickly dimmed and Nisker appeared on stage in a ridiculous cartoon-cyberpunk outfit, like something from an anime version of Dune. Opening track and title track off the new album, Rub, seemed nothing too special on recording, but lines such as “can’t talk right now, this chicks dick is in my mouth”, came across with hilarity and set the tone for the rest of the night. The sold out crowd was heaving, jumping, dancing, screaming (and cracking up) as she projected her sexual electro punk classics on to us all. Nisker was the MC and the DJ, as she queued each track up on a set of CD-J’s and a mixer placed on a riser in front of her rock show light rig. Proving charismatic enough to own the stage on her own through-out Fatherfucker favourite Operate, she returned to the new material with Vaginaplasty, bring out her two person dance crew to help out. Dressed in giant vagina outfits, complete with over-sized clitoris’, the dancers helped add visual flair to the proceedings. The male and female dancers I felt had a particularly mainstream look to them, which gave the ridiculous content (and dance ideas) an accessibility. They seemed like regularly people, not flamboyant performers or drag artists (like many that appear in her videos) and I couldn’t help think her choice of backup dancers perhaps spoke to the sexually repressed among her audience. It was as if to say, if this common looking couple can get freaky to the suggestion of Peaches, so can you.

peaches live 2015

Nisker kept the energy up, soon walking over the hands of the audience and right to the middle of the venue during I Feel Cream. Talk To Me and Boys Wanna Be Her proved two of the most popular of the set judging by audience reaction, but she wasn’t only playing the hits, drawing deep into her catalouge for standalone single Burst! and Teaches Of Peaches deep-cut Lovertits. The most outrageous prop of the night was to come during Dick In The Air. With a great trap beat, and some of Peaches funniest lyrics off the new album, I had anticipated this song being one of my highlights. Not content with just bringing a blow up penis (which would have illustrated the songs content just fine), the stage crew proceeded to inflate a giant see-through plastic shaft, which spread out across the audience. The tracks deep baseline kicked in, and Peaches delivered the first verse before entering the giant shaft and walking across the audience. I had expected perhaps a dick to be raised to the air during this song in some form, I hadn’t expected a penis shaped shaft to be inflated over the audience with Peaches dancing and rapping within it. I true moment of stage-craft genius if there ever was one.

The inevitable mass crowd-singalong to Fuck The Pain Away occurred, before Peaches left the stage, taking a suitcase with her to the tune of The Warriors theme. I wasn’t sure if she would be one to return and encore, but she soon did, this time topless (although tastefully so – skin coloured nipple covers and a new costume). She chose perhaps the best song off the new album to open this encore, Dumb Fuck, with her backup dancers returning also for one last routine, this time creatively involving hair dryers. AA XXX gave us all one last time to shout along with her brilliant punk poetry, before she exited the stage once again. It was not over yet however, as she graced this Camden stage one more time for Light In Places. A hexagon shaped swing was unfurled from the lighting rig, and if you’ve seen the video, I think you can guess what came next. We were basically treated to a cirque-du-solei show, as Peaches was joined by aerial performance Empress Stah, who took to the swing to demonstrate some amazing acrobatic abilities. All with a lighting device placed just about on her butt. I’d never been so happy to have an ass shine over me. It was quite the performance, and not one I’ll forget any time – especially impressive if that was a butt-plug creating those lights.

peaches live buttplug ass

After two encores and a show full of high energy set pieces and a large setlist of new and old songs, I doubt there was an unsatisfied fan in the room. Nisker took the time to sign records and meet the fans straight after the show, showing her humble nature. I took the opportunity to talk to her again, having met her briefly as a wide-eyed 17 year old at the Big Day Out 2007. It is somewhat comforting to know that in that time since, Nisker has been able to maintain her career, stay relevant, and arguably become an even better live performer. What she gave us at the Electric Ballroom was one part insane party and another part punk political statement, and with her career of fearlessness and confrontation – to gender norms and repressed sexuality – it must be a vindication of her continued efforts to see the frenzied fun she inspires within a club setting such as this.

peaches rub signed

Film Review: Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015)

The latest Bond film features all the hallmarks of the beloved franchise – international locals, elaborately staged espionage action sequences, a Bond girl or two, a menacing foreign-accented villain and a plot to end world safety plucked straight from contemporary headlines. Being a product of both the age of terror and mass-surveillance, the scriptwriters deftly manage to include strands of both within the films surprisingly entertaining narrative. I say surprising, as many of the reviews I’d read prior to seeing the film had had me expecting a much more derivative Bond entry. The core Bond-formula elements are all there, but returning director Sam Mendes executes them with style, wrapping up the Craig-era Bond films in a satisfying way, while leaving room for more.

It has apparently been a while since watching early Bond, as I had forgotten all about Spectre and their role and their role as being the main bad guys back in the Connery-era films. It was perhaps rather naive that I realised mid-way through this film that I was watching both a reboot and an origins story. Blofeld is back, and Christopher Waltz puts his signature twisted spin on the character, largely over-shadowing earlier versions. The classic villain has been given an expanded back story, providing more depth to his villainous motivation. Of the returning characters, Ben Wishaw is back at Q, and is given his own share of action time – a worthy successor to Ben Whishaw. Roy Kinnear is back as the of Mi6 and Judi Dench obviously exited in the last entry, but the scriptwriters have chosen to have her shadow hang over this narratives events.

The bond girl this time around is Lea Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swan, a daughter of a Spectre member living in hiding. Following on from strong female action characters of recent times such as Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, she is not just eye candy for Bond to save, but does much of the saving herself. Seydoux and Craig have chemistry, and their relationship has the usual amount of Bond-style twists and turns. In spite of the attempts to have a strong female co-star, I feel her character is at times a bit predictable and feels one of the least daring elements of the narrative.

Sometimes it’s not entirely apparently how the films enormous budget, one of the largest in history at $245 million, was put to use. Perhaps marketing and actors fees account for a large proportion of this, but one area where the money was apparent was in the use of major international locations. The opening sequence set during Mexico Cities’ Dia de los Muertos kicks things off with an ambitious single take shot, including a large amount of extras (many probably digital). Later, Bond speeds through the narrow medieval streets of Rome in a thrilling chase sequence that rivals the best of them. Things later return to London, and I was happy to see many familiar landmarks make an appearance. I’m assuming it wasn’t cheap to stage action sequences around Trafalgar Square. The action scenes are entertaining, the explosives well executed, if the violence a little less frequent as the last three Craig entries.

I wonder, with the budget being used in reasonably subtle ways (for a Bond film), are pretty locals are not enough to win over modern audiences. While the action sequences are flashy, they are not nearly as frequent as a Joss Weadon or Michael Bay action film. The ambivalent reactions toward Spectre makes me wonder if the entry is too nuanced for a modern audience, who are increasingly used to action sequences filmed like first person shooter games, and narratives with the simplest of good-bad dichotomies (every Marvel film for example). Although the narrative had it’s share of flaws, the scriptwriters usage of contemporary issues as plot devices was much more intelligent and subtle than the usual distorted cinematic propoganda (such as that of the cold war era Bonds). The film explored the connection between terrorist acts and the profit gained from private companies selling mass-surveilance to fairful governments and their people. In one scene, after South Africa remains the only country adverse to joining the fictionalized ‘9 eyes’ intellegence network, we later see a headline reporting a terrorist act taking place within Cape Town. Spectre are of course behind and profiting from all this, and their motives are not fully explained, but the subtle use of relevant issues is a welcome touch.

Mendes has given the Craig-era bond films their own continuity with this entry, and they now stand-out especially from the rest of the franchise. By revisiting and re imagining such iconic moments of Bond history as Spectre and Blofeld, Mendes manages to pay homage to the series while further drawing a line in the sand regarding the place of the Craig-era films. The Craig films have seemed a new beginning ever since Casino Royale, but now more than ever they have their own continuity and connecting themes, inspired by the old books and films, but given a slick new polish for a modern generation. Unlikely as it seems, more than ever the Bond series appears to be one with legs to continue to future generations. I hope that Craig at least gets one more, but if this is the end to his Bond career, it’s a fitting finale.

 spectre2

Live Review: Chvrches (Alexander Palace, London, 2015)

 

I was slightly cynical before attending Chvrches largest London headline show to date, having previously seen them play Laneway in Auckland in 2014, where they had been promoted to headliner after Lorde dropped out. At the time they didn’t quite seem headline material, even for an indie festival such as Laneway, and a minimal stage set up and technical issues in my eyes confirmed this to be the case. With their latest album, Every Open Eye being a strong follow up to The Bones Of What You Believe, and their fan-base only growing in size and dedication, it seemed there were enough reasons in the lead up to the Alexander Palace show to believe that Chvrches now have what it takes.

Alexander Palace, with it’s standing capacity of 7,300 is not a small venue. Chvrches has sold this out, which is perhaps an indication of their rising popularity. The audience was eclectic, not being dominated by teenagers or indie kids, but with a suitable proportion it seemed of over 40 year olds and casual concert goers, of both genders. Gangs of lads could be spotted as could many couples, choosing this band for the soundtrack to their courtship. It seems Chvrches are a band that crosses demographics.

The opening acts were equally eclectic, with Australian indie-EDM cross-over act Mansionair opening proceedings. There drummer was particularly notable, backing up layers of melodic synths and reverb heavy chords with jazzy rhythms and the expected drum machine sample. It was a fairly chilled beginning, before Four Tet took the stage with his intoxicating progressive house vibes, encouraging some welcome movement throughout the steadily growing crowd. It is perhaps notable to mention that the show ran like clock-work, with Chvrches taking to the stage exactly on their 9pm listed time.

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The house lights went down and the Glasgow band emerged, with singer Lauren Mayberry’s presence causing the expected shrieks of excitement from their especially female fan-base. Wasting no time, Mayberry danced about the stage, leaping up on the fold-back’s and seemed a much more confident front-woman than at Laneway two years earlier. Opening track Never Ending Circles has some of the best hooks off the new album and provided an energetic opener. Her two bandmates, Martin Doherty and Iain Cook, were largely stuck on their podiums of synthesizers and samples, although 41 year old Cook occasionally left his podium to add live bass. Doherty gets turn front of stage later for a lead vocal cameo, with Mayberry showing her percussions skills, her drumming cameos being somewhat of a highlight.

The two massive screen’s either side of the band focused on Mayberry, making her a seem larger than life presence, in spite of her relatively slight real life stature.  These screens also provided a glimpse into what was taking place behind Doherty and Cook’s podiums, giving evidence that they were in fact playing their synthesizers live – not just queuing backing tracks as could easily be assumed. The stage design has gone up a notch as well, though remaining understated, with three screens of colourful animations and an arena-sized lighting rig providing a visual accompaniment to the music. These production values are expected for a band of this size, but in my eyes greatly improved the shows sense of spectacle compared to that minimal Laneway performance. They are now suited to a venue the size of Alexander Palace, without completely giving themselves over to the excesses of mainstream pop live productions.

Although Chvrches are fast rising the ranks of indie fame, they continue to approach their pop career with modesty. This determination to stay down to earth shows itself particularly in Mayberry’s on stage persona, herself admitting during between song banter that she could never be a Motley Crue-type, crowd pleasing front-woman. Although asking the crowd later if they were having a great time, referencing the earlier self-deprecating banter, the crowd in turn responded with cheers, showing that if Mayberry was every to fully embrace the role of a rock performer, she would well have the capability. But perhaps Chvrches reluctance to embrace the fake side of rock and pop is what draws their fanbase towards them. At other points in the concert, Mayberry talked of her fear of becoming another headline, in light of recent onstage events becoming tabloid fodder. Regardless of what the journalists chose to write, the bands authenticity in songwriting and performance remains endearing  and I think it is a large part of their appeal.

Most importantly, Chvrches have the hits, blitzing through big singalong moments such as Gun and We Sink off the first album, with new singles Empty Threat, Leave A Trace and Clearest Blue already being some of the biggest moments. Vocals are always impressive and the performance quality near identical to what is heard on the album (a good or bad thing depending on your appreciation of improvisation). Ending with the tender Afterglow, before signature anthem The Mother We Share, Chvrches prove they more than have the songwriting skills to be major headlining act. Compared to recent concerts I’ve attended of this genre which seemed slightly underwhelming, Purity Ring being one example, Chvrches are staking their claim as a major electronic pop live draw-card, and they have the evidence to prove it.

chvrches alexander palace

Film Review: Love And Mercy (Bill Pohlad, 2015)

Brian Wilson’s story is unusual by Pop history standards. A musical prodigy, who created his most notable and successful work before the age of 25, he soon succumbed to regular drug use as his mental health declined. His fears and neuroses plaguing him, creative output declined and by the early 80s he was bed-ridden and weighed over 300 pound. He at one point would have seemed a sure bet for the next name in rock’s tragic casualty list, along with Keith Moon, Elvis and Syd Barrett. But proving himself a rare survivor, in spite of his on-going near-schizophrenic illnesses and is still performing and recording music to this day – most of which is pretty good and nearly holds up to his early groundbreaking works. These are SMilE and Pet Sounds, and if you haven’t delved into Wilson, I greatly suggest giving all versions of SMilE listen to understand why this guy is so revered. Now he has his own biopic, which is greatly entertaining in spite of it’s flaws and has it’s own unique style and insight’s into this most unique of musical lives.

Veteran producer and recent director Bill Pohlad led the production, using inventive narrative devices to capture the essence of Wilson’s art as well as his strained genius. The narrative jumps between two key periods in Wilson’s life. Paul Dano plays a young Wilson, mental health declining while he reaches his creative peak. In the second narrative, John Cusack plays an older, increasingly troubled Wilson under the grip of psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy. This style is comparable to Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan cross-section, I’m Not There (screenwriter Oren Moverman worked on both). While that film took liberties with the life of Bob Dylan, drawing inspiration from his music and various stages of his persona, Love And Mercy sticks to the facts. Mythic moments of Wilson’s career such as the piano in the sandbox, the animals in the studio, the 1964 airborne panic attack – are all present. Much documented quotes and conversations are included, but they’re also condensed, which is probably necessary to not drag out exposition, but it does feel forced at times.

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Minor script accuracy gripes aside, most of the early Wilson period is electrifyingly re-enacted, Paul Dano’s performance of Wilson being particularly accurate. Wilson himself is quoted as saying in regards to this performance, “I was really blown away by how close he [Dano] got to my personality. It’s amazing.” The scenes of recording Pet Sounds and Smile are a thrill, and seem to be very accurately depicted. Music geeks will get off on the attention to detail – the actor’s playing the session musicians are all really playing their instruments, the studios and locations look authentic, and even mythic scenes such as Wilson directing an entire orchestra to wear children’s fireman helmets are included. The early scenes steal the movie for me, and make the film worth watching for this alone. John Cusack does his best as the older Wilson and although Dano is a more realistic in appearance, Cusack’s performance effectively conveys the heartbreaking desperation of Wilson’s middle aged situation. Later scenes are dominated by exchanges between Wilson’s second wife, Melinda Ledbetter (played by Elizabeth Banks) and the controlling psychotherapist and main antagonist, Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). A trim to these scenes wouldn’t have hurt, though they get their intended emotional effect across. Landy is portrayed completely as the enemy, and Ledbetter as Wilson’s savior, although many sources state that the real life Landy saved Wilson’s life (if the Daily Mail is to believed). No doubt their relationship was unhealthy towards the end, but perhaps in portraying Landy as an utter evil presence is some what a distortion of the truth.

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Jumping between the two time-periods is sometimes erratic, with both having their own distinctive styles. Cinematography choices reflects this, with the early period seeming to be 35mm, while the later a digital aesthetic. The episodic structure of the film keeps things entertaining, as the script rarely falls on usual biography film cliches. These choices could be said to be experimental in the way that Wilson’s songwriting is – with edit choices comparable to the cut and paste techniques used in the recording of Good Vibrations for example. The sound design is also stand-out, with Atticus Ross drawing from Wilson’s studio archive to create something reflective of the auditory hallucinations Wilson experiences. The compositions sit side by side with the Beach Boys classics, tying the two narrative sections together, and amplifying the drug fueled paranoia of the 60s scenes immensely.

Technically impressive and emotionally powerful, this is an unconventional but polished dramatization of one of the most important musicians of our time. Wilson’s life is not greatly known outside of the realm of Beach Boys fanatics, so I feel this is an important story to push to the mainstream. Parts of the narrative might be slightly biased to certain party’s – the argument has been put out there that this is revisionist history praising Wilson’s current wife and demonizing Eugene Landy – but the story told within is a fascinating one, if simplified for mainstream audiences. I would argue more good than harm is done with the telling of this story, as it brings light on how debilitating mental health issues can be, even to some one seemingly blessed with talent and opportunity. Most importantly, this is a really entertaining and intelligently made film. Somewhat like the intentional musical errors found within some of Wilson’s best compositions, there are rough edges, but they only make the film more interesting.

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